By Jennifer Nash
On 21 November tens of thousands of students will be marching on the streets of London to protest against the government’s ongoing attacks on students and education.
Taking on the assault on students: no to a lifetime of debt, fees & poverty
Students that started university this September are the first generation to be paying £9,000 per year in tuition fees. The average student debt will rise from £23,000 to £40,000+ as a result of the fee hike.
Alongside facing a lifetime of debt upon graduating from university, the government’s attacks on students are making it harder to make it into higher education in the first place.
The scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has had a hugely detrimental impact on the poorest young people, who previously depended on this government subsidy to afford to continue studying in post-16 education. The Institute of Fiscal Studies found that the EMA increased the proportion of young people who stayed in education from 65 per cent to 69 per cent among 16-year-olds and from 54 per cent to 61 per cent among 17 year-olds.
Alan Milburn, former Blairite Labour Minister who became a social mobility adviser to the Tory-led government, branded the abolition of the EMA as ‘a very bad mistake.’
The Bring Back EMA campaign, launched last week, is seeking to put this issue back onto the political agenda and force a government u-turn ahead of the next generation election.
For those young people that do make it to university, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Cuts to bursaries, insufficient student loans, rising rents and a lack of available part-time work are forcing students into poverty.
A new report from the NUS published this week, found that poorer students who cannot rely on parental assistance to help them through their studies must work 33 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, in order to cope with a cash shortfall of £8,566 – because the loans students are entitled to take out do not cover living costs.
Upon graduating from university students face bleak job prospects as the government economic policy of ‘austerity’ has resulted in record youth unemployment.
There is an alternative: investment and free education for all
Claims that there is no alternative to an austerity economic policy that causes rising student debt and massive education cuts are entirely false.
There needs to be a huge increase in state investment, including in the university sector. This would not only offer young people the opportunities to fulfil their potential but would help revive the economy now. Raising the population’s level of education also helps secure the possibility of growth in the future.
As Nobel prize-winning economist and former head of the World Bank Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz has pointed out: ‘investments in technology, education and infrastructure… will stimulate the economy and create jobs in the short run and promote growth and debt reduction in the long run.’
Government figures show that for every pound invested in higher education, the economy expands by £2.60. The Treasury’s models show that half of this – £1.30 – comes back in tax revenue, giving the government extra income on each pound spent to pay off the national debt or invest in other public services. In short: government spending on education more than pays for itself.
The fact that the government is pursing the opposite approach, by implementing deep cuts to the education budget, despite the overwhelming evidence that investment in education is hugely beneficial to society and the economy as a whole, is because the real aim of the Tories’ assault on students is not to restore economic growth, but to lower living standards so that capitalist profits are increased.
The government’s twisted spending priorities are to waste £33 billion a year on military expenditure – money that brings death and destruction to some of the poorest people on the planet from Libya to Afghanistan, with no benefits for the British population.
Diverted to a productive use, a quarter of the military budget could finance the scrapping of tuition fees, replacement of student loans with living grants and the bringing back of EMA.
The example of the economic policies being pursued by Venezuela illustrates that there is an alternative to attacking the living standards of the population, including its students and young people.
Alongside policies which have lifted over five million Venezuelans out of poverty and another three million Venezuelans from extreme poverty since 1998, the Chávez-led government has also massively increased spending on education.
Whilst the poorest students are being priced out of education in Britain, in Venezuela the government has hugely expanded access to free education, leading to a trebling of the numbers of young people attending higher education. With 83 per cent of young people attending university, Venezuela now has the fifth highest rate of participation in the world – which is almost double that of Britain’s 43 per cent participation rate.
Uniting to fight back: all out on Wednesday 21 November!
The NUS national demonstration on 21 November will be a key opportunity for students to express their anger at the Tory-led assault, which is driving students into debt and poverty.
After the protest, it is important that students continue to fight back, and strengthen their ties with trade unions and the broader anti-cuts movement.